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Back In Time: When The Toothpick Got Patented


By Deeksha Aggarwalla

Back in Time is ED’s newspaper-like column that reports an incident from the past as though it has happened just yesterday. It allows the reader to re-live it several years later, on the date it had occurred.

For the patenting of tooth-picking making machine, we shall go back all the way to February 20, 1872.

Silas Noble and J.P. Cooley, of Granville, Massachusetts have patented a machine for making tooth-picks. For the unawares, toothpicks are thin twig- like sticks, which help in taking disturbing particles from between our teeth.


To appreciate the patent, we must understand what a toil it must be for workers in Maine to manually pick out stubs of wood from trunks of trees, shape them at at least one end to be pointed, smooth and decorate them to be stylish.

Charles Forster, first, introduced a standardised toothpick in the 1860s in Boston. We can only imagine the relief such a consumer product must have provided to the general masses. More than that, people visiting parties must have been elated to have finally gotten a substitute for forks – to pick up their hors d’oeuvre.


We aren’t saying that a thing akin to toothpick has never existed. Our predecessors, I do not think, would have dwelt well with the irritation of food between teeth – cave men or not. *shudders about chunks of flesh stuck in the slits, as the cavemen ripped uncooked meat!*

Did you know that people in India use Neem twigs to clean their mouth every morning? That is probably one giant inspiration for tooth picks. Both the Greeks and Romans use quills as toothpicks. They also learned to carve toothpicks from wood. The toothpick really became popular in the 17th century as a “portable” dental hygiene device. You could stick it your pocket and always have it with you. They were also a status of economic prosperity. People actually used jewel studded quills. *laughs at the image of a ruby studded quill, which a European, might out stick into his mouth.*


All the author can think about at present is, it will save her time, money and effort to not pick on tree branches in search for a stick, every time a piece of meat gets stuck between her molars. In future, toothpicks would be used for more diverse purposes – from holding sandwiches together, to decorating the olive on cocktails and who knows, what brainy kids in schools would come up with. This day, however, will go in history as the day, when two men from Massachusetts registered patent number 127360 – allowing Maine (in future) to use all its resources of wood and men, enabling the sale of 29 billion toothpicks in the US.

Image Credits: Google

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